The Fine Line Between NBA Employment and Unemployment

Rob Mahoney@RobMahoneyNBA Lead WriterAugust 20, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Andray Blatche #7 of the Washington Wizards before the start of the Wizards game against the New York Knicks at Verizon Center on January 6, 2012 in Washington, DC.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Few could sincerely defend Andray Blatche in the wake of his release by the Washington Wizards via the amnesty clause; rarely is a player released so unquestionably deserving of his fate, but Blatche combined a bloated contract, lack of effectiveness and lagging work ethic to mount an impressive case for his dismissal.

Yet even with those factors understood, it seems like only a matter of time before Blatche gets another NBA shot. He's hoping for that very thing at this particular moment; what remains of the NBA roster spots have largely dried up over the course of the last few weeks, but Blatche continues to vie for a spot that he rightfully lost. From Donna Ditota of (via PBT):

Rumors have swirled about interest from the Miami Heat or the San Antonio Spurs. Blatche laughed when asked about them.

"My dream destination right now would be back on the court. For real. Just to get back on the court," he said. "It's something I love to do. It doesn't matter if it's the Heat or the Spurs or the D League. Whatever. As long as I'm back on the court playing ball.

"I mean, I love the game. I'm a fan of the game. I love playing basketball. That's the only thing I've been doing since I've been little. Basketball is something that is very, very important to me."

Basketball didn't appear to be terribly important when Blatche was dragging through defensive possessions, but that's neither here nor there.

The more curious aspect of Blatche's current predicament is just how little removed he is from actually being back in the league; Spurs rumors aside, what is the fundamental dividing line between Blatche and, say, a perennial underachiever such as Anthony Randolph? Blatche had the "misfortune"—if that word in any way applies—of being paid well above his actual value, and then being expected to produce at the level of his pay grade. 

That failure is in no way a cardinal sin, but disappointment relative to contract value isn't taken lightly in professional sporting circles. Were Blatche a lesser tragedy to the franchise he plagued for so long, he'd likely have his name inked on a contract for the coming season; no matter how inefficient and unfocused he may be, Blatche still has the kind of promise that mesmerizes NBA executives. Instead, he's likely left scoffing at unguaranteed training camp invites, all while less-talented players take up the roster spots that could have been his.

There's an odd flimsiness to the process that determines who makes the cut in the NBA and who doesn't; none will exactly bemoan Blatche's paid unemployment, but it could prove difficult to really justify what separates him from the lowest tier of contracted NBA players. Alleged laziness and unfulfilled potential are hardly unique when it comes to players on the bottom rung, but Blatche's name has the added asterisk of a $35.7 million contract extension given to him under a pretense that went unsatisfied. That's enough to keep him on the outside looking in at present, regardless of what a player of his skills might otherwise command.